With some degree of tardiness I have also now reflected on the Culture Matters conference in Norwich. I spent the Thursday morning sitting in on the Income Generation seminar, chaired by the Chief Executive of The Heritage Alliance, Kate Pugh. The four presentations came from quite different perspectives, but raised in my mind a couple of key issues: income generation strategies are vital for heritage organisations, which goes without saying, but those income strategies need to be properly ‘owned’ by the whole organisation and must be demonstrated to support the whole organisation’s aims and objectives. Secondly, the definition of income is wide, and an understanding of where and why the money or its equivalents flows in, out and around organisations could often be better understood. Leading on from this, recognition is needed that it isn’t all about money, but the equivalent, be it time, ‘in kind’ support, engagement and PR or other type of activity should wisely be able to equate an economic value (for those who do think in those terms). This was described by Ruth Towse as accounting for the ‘whole income’, and put into my mind the work by the New Economics Foundation on social return on investment (SROI) which could be explored further in a heritage context. A particularly insightful point (which is obvious if you think about it) was made by Alice Marsh, who was talking about gallery and museum shops: often the shop provides the most interactive element of an exhibition, and that staff in the gallery shop may be seen as more approachable than staff elsewhere who they have encountered. Therefore the shop staff are far more important than most organisations give them credit for – and should be more integral to thinking about the visitor experience.
The afternoon’s plenary sessions, kicked off by Loyd Grossman, saw in typically bombastic style, an assessment of where the heritage sector is and why it still feels undervalued. Loyd pointed out that the ‘burden of evidence’ required for heritage to argue its case for attention seems higher than for other sectors, and that we can do so much more with the plethora of evidence we already have available. It was pleasing to hear the sometimes derided tourism income link played up as a key provider of evidence, and a reminder that the Heritage Counts research programme which reaches its 10th anniversary this year. (I helped establish this back in 2002, as a successor to the annual Heritage Monitor and, subsequently advised on the equivalent ‘Heritage Audit’ in Scotland). Advocacy remains a key challenge – with killer facts that need to be deployed at an instant in the right kind of policy language – I hesitate to use the word ‘spin’, but that’s what we still need to improve.